Reading an article by Gavin Lamb (PhD) about the conclusions of academic studies into language learning, and adding my own reflections and comments. What does research tell us about the best way to learn a language? What are the most important things to consider? What are the best methods? The article boils it all down to three main points.
Steve Kaufmann is a very prolific language learner. He has learned at least 20 languages to varying degrees during his life. Some of them he learned during his career as an international diplomat and businessman, and others he has learned during his (semi) retirement. In this interview Steve talks about his language learning experiences, methods and motivations. We talk about various metaphors and similes for language learning including ocean voyages 🚢, cows 🐮, skiing ⛷ and cutting grass🏡, and I ask Steve about cross-cultural experiences he has had during his career. There is a video version but only the audio version contains my intro and ending rambles about getting my hair cut and how you need to remember that you’re a baby cow-shark on skis 🐄🦈🎿😅.
Thanks again to Steve for the interview! Check out his website here https://www.thelinguist.com/
As a language learner, never forget that you are a baby cow-shark on skis!! 🐮🦈⛷
A rambling episode about making a fresh start in the new year, and some things I just have to tell you about listening to Luke’s English Podcast using a podcast app on your phone + lots of tangents. I hope you enjoy it!
Episode notes / Transcript
- I start reading at 12mins12seconds in the audio version
- Sometimes I go “off-script” and say things which are not written here. I hope you can follow it all.
If you’re new to this podcast – I’m Luke, I’m an English teacher and comedian from England, and I’ve been doing this podcast for learners of English for about 14 years now.
You can use my podcast to improve your English in various ways, but the main thing is that it can help you do more listening, which is essential for acquiring natural, and instinctive English. What I mean by instinctive English is that you get an instinctive feel for the language, and this is what you can get from simply engaging with English in spoken form or written form and focusing on understanding it. It really helps if the process is fun and so I do try to keep things funny (this isn’t funny though) or just entertaining and interesting as much as possible.
This is episode 805 and it’s called A New Year Ramble 2023.
I am just going to talk to you for at least an hour. Just listen to my voice for the duration of the episode and remember – all the words and sentences I am saying are all going into your brain and a lot of it will stick there! This is perhaps more effective for your English progress than slaving away over a grammar book or staring at word lists. Just listen to me, follow my words, stick with me and hopefully enjoy it all. Let the rest happen naturally.
For this episode I’ve written some notes which I am reading from sometimes, and some stuff is spontaneous.
The main thing in this episode is that I’m just going to have a ramble. That means talking and talking, sometimes going this way sometimes that way, moving from one topic to another and one thought to another without having a very clearly defined structure. As I said, I’m just going to talk to you for a while. Join me!
New Listeners, a Fresh Start & Learning English with LEP in 2023
In January I find that new people start listening (hello!)
Also people return to the podcast and generally refocus on learning English, turning over a new leaf.
New Year’s resolutions
I like to make a fresh start every January and say some things on the podcast to explain what this is, how it works, and how you can learn English from my content.
This is the 14th time I’ve recorded an new year episode. It’s my 14th January on this show so I have done quite a lot of episodes in the past welcoming new people and talking about how you can learn English with this podcast, and what the aims of this project are.
So, instead of repeating the same things again, I’ll suggest that you check out some of these episodes. (Pick some episodes to recommend)
Where can I find all your episodes, Luke?
You can always find all my episodes in the archive on my website. If you’re watching on YouTube, not all the episodes are there. Just some.
All rest are in my episode archive on my website including episode titles, numbers, summaries of what’s in each episode and then on each page you’ll find an audio player, a download button and sometimes vocabulary notes, transcripts of some or all of the episode and more things.
Some things you should know about how to listen to LEP
I’ve noticed from quite a lot of comments and emails recently that people don’t know certain key information about my show.
Let’s just clarify a few things here about this podcast.
- Free episodes (Luke’s English Podcast)
- and premium episodes (Luke’s English Podcast Premium)
Free episodes are free! You’re listening to a free episode right now!
If you’re listening using a podcast app on your phone, you might notice some advertising. This helps me to continue doing the podcast and pays for things like rent, internet, food.
Premium episodes are only available if you sign up to LEP Premium for about 4$ a month. This also helps me to pay for things like food, clothes for my daughter, flowers for my wife, and loads of other things. This is how I actually live these days!
Anyway, premium episodes are for premium subscribers and they’re usually about vocabulary, pronunciation and grammar.
The premium episodes have PDFs.
Some premium subscribers don’t know how to find the PDFs.
I’ll tell you more about premium a bit later including the best way to listen to premium episodes and how to get the PDFs.
How to listen to the free episodes
My show has always been primarily an audio podcast which most people listen to using a podcast app on their phone.
You can also listen to the episodes on my website.
I publish my episodes on YouTube as well.
Over the last couple of years I’ve been filming myself with a webcam while recording my episodes and putting those video versions on YouTube. Some of those YouTube videos have sort of gone viral and I’ve ended up being a kind of YouTuber as well, but I still consider this show to be an audio podcast first and foremost.
Sometimes there is more content in the audio versions, for example if I have an interview with a guest, the video version might only contain the conversation, whereas the audio version will probably include an introduction and some talking from me at the end of the episode (perhaps a short ramble or some vocabulary explanations).
When it’s possible I add some text on the screen of video versions on YouTube so you can read while you listen, but I don’t do that every time.
Automatic subtitles are available (usually) on my YouTube videos.
But this show is primarily an audio podcast. This is how I think of it. It’s an audio show which you can listen to in the normal way people listen to podcasts, which means using a podcast app on your phone.
Now, I’m going to go a bit basic here and explain what a podcast app is.
Back to basics: What is a podcast app?
The majority of you listening already know all this stuff so I’m just patronising you, but I suppose you could just pay attention to the way I’m describing all of this. How would you explain how to listen to a podcast, to someone who is completely new to the whole thing? Here’s how I would do it.
For those of you who don’t know, a podcast app is an app you download (free) onto your phone from the App Store (iOS) or Play Store (Android).
Lots of apps are available as I said. Check your phone. You might already have one. If you’re on iOS, you can look for the one with the purple icon that says Podcasts. Personally I’m not a huge fan of that app, but it will work fine.
Maybe you don’t have a podcast app on your phone, in which case, download one (PocketCasts!) then just search in the app for Luke’s English Podcast and then subscribe to it. Of course, other podcasts are available but who needs other podcasts I ask you?
New episodes will arrive there every time I publish them and it’s super convenient. You can listen to episodes on headphones (recommended) or just blare them out loud on your phone on the back of the bus or something if you want to annoy everyone around you or perhaps help them learn English too.
You can listen when your phone is connected to wifi (probably at home or maybe in the office when you should be working) or you can listen when you’re outside using your phone’s data internet connection.
Podcast apps will also save your place in the episode, if you press stop for some reason. The app will remember where you stopped. Then when you go back to the app later and start listening to that episode again, the app will remember where you stopped and you can carry on listening. Perfect! No need to worry about my episodes being too long! No need to listen to the whole thing in one single sitting.
There are also other advantages to using a podcast app on your phone, including being able to add my premium episodes to the app as well, if you sign up. I’ll explain more about that in a minute.
A lot of people use Spotify to listen to podcasts. Great! The only problem there is that you can’t add premium episodes to Spotify, because it’s not a “normal podcast app”.
Don’t use the Luke’s English Podcast App any more
By the way, I am not talking about the LEP App here. A lot of you have downloaded that on your phones.
It’s listed in the app store as “Luke’s English Podcast App” and it might appear on your phone as simply LEP.
But, don’t use the LEP app any more. It is defunct. New episodes are no longer arriving there and in a few months it will disappear from the App Store completely. So, you can forget about the LEP App now. It’s sad, I know, but it’s not the end of the world because you can continue listening in any other normal podcast app as I’ve said.
How to listen to LEP Premium and how to get the premium PDFs
Right, so let me talk a bit about LEP Premium. This isn’t a promotion by the way, it’s just information which a lot of people don’t know. No pressure to sign up to my premium subscription or anything. It’s totally up to you. Of course I hope you do, but it’s up to you right?
By the way, premium people – new episodes are coming including some storytime episodes.
So, I am constantly getting emails from people saying “I have signed up to LEP Premium but how do I listen and how do I get the PDFs?” and I just feel like a surprising number of people out there are somehow missing out on basic information which you just have to know or I might go a bit mad and stick bananas in my ears and then everyone will say “Hey you’ve got bananas in your ears” and I’ll say “What??” and they’ll say “You’ve got bananas in your ears!!!” and I’ll say “What????” and they’ll say “WHY HAVE YOU GOT BANANAS IN YOUR EARS???” and I’ll say “I CAN’T HEAR YOU I’VE GOT BANANAS IN MY EARS!!!”
That’s what will happen if everyone continues not to know certain basic information about my podcast and about how the premium part works.
Let me explain as quickly and clearly as possible, then we’ll move on to some ramblings about other perhaps more entertaining matters.
The best way to listen to premium episodes is to add LEP Premium to a podcast app on your phone.
Let’s say you’re using Apple Podcasts to listen to the normal free episodes of LEP and you’ve decided it’s time to also listen to the premium content to push your English further. Maybe one day you just say to yourself “Hey, I think it’s time to also listen to the premium content to push my English further” but then you think, but what do I do? Where do I go? And crucially – how do I get those precious PDFS????
Ok, so let’s say you’ve gone to www.teacherluke.Co.uk/premium on your phone and you’ve signed up to LEP Premium and you are logged into Acast+ (the platform I use for the premium subscription).
You’ll see that you have the option to “Listen now” or “Add show to app”.
If you tap “listen now” you’ll see a list of all the episodes and you can play them, listen to them. But this is not a convenient way to listen.
You need to tap “add show to app”, so tap that and you can choose the podcast app which you have on your phone and which you use to listen to the free episodes, see?
Again, let’s say you’re using Apple Podcasts. Let’s use that as an example.
Where it says “Add show to podcast” you then tap “Apple Podcasts” and the Apple Podcasts app will magically open, giving you the option to subscribe to LEP Premium there. Do it! You’ve already paid, you’ve put your card details in and stuff, what are you waiting for. Add LEP Premium to Apple Podcasts! Go for it!
Now you have upgraded your LEP episode list on Apple Podcasts. You will now be able to find the premium episodes in your list. Before it was just the free episodes. Now the list includes the premium episodes too. Celebrate! It’s a miracle!
Spare a thought for LEPsters who can’t sign up to LEP Premium because of government stuff (Give peace a chance)
I think at this point it would be appropriate to spare a thought for those LEPsters who are unable to sign up to LEP Premium on Acast+, probably because of two possibilities – either Acast has been blocked by your government because they think that LEP and LEP Premium are just far too dangerous for people to listen to, because – heaven forbid, I might talk about things which perhaps directly contradict the version of reality which they are trying to pull over your eyes, OR your credit card will not work for international payments because your country is being sanctioned because your government is being very naughty indeed. In any case, if you can’t access LEP Premium, I am sorry, but have a word with your government OK? But don’t get thrown in jail. I know, that’s easier said than done. I don’t know – I don’t want to casually suggest that you all rise up in some kind of revolution or something, and overthrow the people who run your country, because you simply cannot allow this madness to continue and you simply must be allowed to sign up to LEP Premium on Acast+. This is up to you. I’ll let you weigh up the risks and the potential benefits and so on. Good luck.
OK but let’s say you’ve signed up to LEP Premium and you’ve successfully added the episodes to your podcast app of choice. The premium episodes are now in your list, along with the other episodes. It might not be obvious at first, but they are there, just waiting to be discovered and listened to.
How can you find them? Well, you’ll need to scroll through the list a bit. Just scroll down through the episode list and BINGO you’ll see them. All premium episodes start with P and a number. P42, P41 etc. Some episodes have the word [Premium] at the start.
Premium episodes P01-P36 were all added in July 2022 and they can be found between free episodes 776 and 777. Scroll down to episode 777 and look under it – see! Loads of premium episodes are there! (if you’ve signed up to the premium subscfiption and added the episodes to your app as I explained before)
ALL THIS STUFF ABOUT PODCAST APPS AND THE PREMIUM EPISODES IS GOING TO STOP IN A COUPLE OF MINUTES I PROMISE!! TRY NOT TO GET IMPATIENT OK??
What about the PDFs for those premium episodes?
The links for the PDFs can be found in the show notes for each premium Episode.
Anyway, what are “show notes” for podcast episodes?
In podcast apps, all podcast episodes have some text notes. This is where podcasters can add maybe a summary of the episode or some links to other things online.
See if you can find the show notes or episode notes for each episode. Go on, have a look right now?
Some of you are saying “Come oooon Luke I know where the show notes are” OK then, find them right now and look at them and then say to yourself “Yes, I know where the show notes are, thank you Luke”
On Apple Podcasts, while you have an episode selected (you’ll see the LEP logo, the name of the episode and a play button) just drag the screen up and the notes will be revealed below. Again, it’s like magic or a miracle or something. An actual miracle. Thanks Jesus!
(one of my new year’s resolutions is to have more FUN in my episodes again, because life is too short)
This is where you will find the links to download the PDF for the episode.
Tap one of the links, open the PDF and read it while you listen or send it to your computer where you can study it more carefully, annotate it with a pdf reader or even print it on paper in the old fashioned way. Then use a pencil to do the tasks.
If you’re not signed up to LEP premium: Hello! That’s fine!
You don’t have to sign up to the premium service if you don’t want to, can’t afford to or aren’t allowed to due to confusing global events and the actions of powerful men who sit at tables deciding your future.
You are still a LEPSTER and you can still enjoy all the free episodes and all the rest of it, until of course the thought police completely turn off your access to the internet. Which country are you talking about Luke? Well, whichever country is doing it.
There are show notes for all the free episodes too. (For many of you I’m teaching grandma how to suck eggs)
If you’re listening in a podcast app. Have a look – you’ll always find a link to the “episode page”. That’s where you can read any vocab notes, find the associated youTube video (if there is one) and other information that I mention in the episode.
YouTube Comments / Keeping My Episodes Varied / I’m the boss round here (yes, I am a powerful man who sits at a table and decides YOUR future)
Now we’re talking about YouTube which is another platform where I publish my episodes – either in video format (where you can see me talking, if that’s your cup of tea) or just listen to episodes without video and maybe switch on the automatic subtitles (don’t forget to smash that like button and click the bell icon and all that jazz).
One thing about being on YouTube is that there are more comments.
This is because it is much easier to comment on YouTube than it is if you are in audioland (listening on a podcast app on your phone, probably).
On YouTube the comment section is right there, and it is an integral part of the YouTube experience.
So, people comment a lot more, which is great. It is lovely to get your feedback and it’s encouraging when people respond to what you’re doing.
Sometimes it is amazing, especially if people write genuinely positive and appreciative things.
It’s mostly great, but it’s sometimes a bit irritating.
As you know, if you are a human being, the negative things tend to stick with us a bit more than the positive things.
By and large, my audience (like any audience of learners of English it seems) is incredibly thankful and appreciative, which is lovely. But naturally there are some people who are not so thoughtful and who write comments which probably tell us more about them than they do about the content that they’re commenting on.
Now, while I do believe it is really important to take criticisms on board, to consider them and to learn from them, some comments are just a bit annoying!
Well, obviously just abusive or directly rude comments are just the kind of “bird shit on the window of life” but there are some comments which are not exactly abuse, but which just show a certain lack of consideration for the content creator. I’m not going to list all the things that irritate me, because what’s the point, but one thing I have noticed is when I upload an episode, let’s say it’s a story episode, and the comment is “I miss your rambling episodes” or “Please make content about phrasal verbs” or “Please make short videos like “Don’t say please” or “stop saying thank you”.
Or I upload a rambling episode and someone comments “Make more stories, we want stories” or I do an Amber & Paul episode and the comment is “We want a Rick Thompson Report!” You get the idea.
I do a variety of episodes, and I’ve always tried to keep the episodes varied for the whole time I’ve been doing this podcast, for better or worse. This is because:
- You can’t please all the people all the time (You might think that one type of episode is the best, but plenty of others will think that another type of episode is the best – in the end, I decide)
- Keeping things varied keeps me motivated
- It’s important for you to hear a variety of things – not just stories, not just teaching phrasal verbs etc, but also conversations, monologues, some easier episodes, some which are more difficult etc
- I don’t think anyone thinks about this more than I do. I put my experience, my professional knowledge and also my heart and soul into making these episodes. They’re not always exactly perfect, but there is no such thing as “perfect” and it’s a fruitless mission to try and chase it.
Ah shit I feel like I’m being too negative now, and also overthinking everything. Ah well.
Is my show blocked in China?
Chinese LEPsters – how do you listen to my podcast? Do you use a VPN? Is my podcast available in Apple Podcasts? Is it available on any other apps? Let me know :)
Happy New Year! LET’S HAVE FUN IN ENGLISH IN 2023! GIVE PEACE A CHANCE!
Leave a comment to let me know you’re not a skeleton 👇
Talking to writer and comedian James Harris about life as a writer, going to Oxford Uni, being an international Brit and learning German, French and Chinese as an adult.
Hello folks and welcome to the podcast. I hope you are doing fine on this particular day. This episode features a conversation, recorded a couple of weeks ago now, with a comedian and writer from the UK about various things, as you’ll see. Your task is to follow along and see what you can pick up and what bits of language learning wisdom you can glean from this conversation.
I don’t really know James that well. I’ve only actually met him once in fact.
He’s a comedian and a writer, he speaks several languages and his twitter feed is good value. He tweets about politics, learning languages, the issues of the day, comedy and various other things. We share a mutual friend – that’s Dharmander Singh from Birmingham, who I used to be in a band with and who is now a stand up comedian in Berlin. The time I met James was in Berlin when I was there on holiday, and I did some stand up on the same show as him.
So why have I invited him on the podcast? Well, it’s mainly because of Twitter. As I said his Twitter feed is interesting. He takes a moderate and balanced view of things, and his interests are pretty wide-ranging, including the fact that he’s very international. He’s married to a Chinese girl, he’s lived abroad, he used to work as a tour guide in several countries, he used to be an English teacher like me, he speaks very good German and French, he’s working on his Chinese, he works as a translator and he’s generally an articulate and interesting guy and so I just thought that he could be worth talking on the podcast.
The language learning thing is obviously very appropriate and I’m always interested in finding out as much as possible about how someone has learned a second language to a very decent level in adulthood, and that is something that we talk about for at least 50% of this conversation. The first half of our chat is basically me getting to know James properly, talking about his work, his studies, his experiences of going to Oxford University, why he chose to move to Germany, being married to a Chinese girl. Then we get into the details of how he learned German mainly, but also French and now how he’s working on his Chinese.
No need to say much more except that I hope you manage to follow the conversation clearly all the way through. Let me know how it was for you and I will speak to you again on the other side of this conversation, probably with some background music going over the top.
Long thread about languages (1/24): One of the most frequent ambitions I've seen for people during the lockdown is to learn a foreign language. I'm something of an exception, an Anglophone person who's managed to do this as an adult, and I have some thoughts on the matter.— James Harris (@JamesHarrisNow) May 3, 2020
Thank you to James for being on the podcast today. Look him up online to read some of his stuff, follow him on social media and help him out by keeping him fuelled up on coffee.
Follow James on Twitter @JamesHarrisNow
Writing, Mini Screenplays https://shoeleatherexpress.org/
BUY A COFFEE FOR JAMES HARRIS https://t.co/8AAQ6P33wJ?amp=1
So, how are you listeners?
Did you pick up any useful nuggets from that conversation? I think there was some pretty good advice there especially the stuff about reading and noting down certain words, being a bit rigorous about your studying and believing that you can do it, really helps.
Talking to English teacher Jessica Beck about her new website, “Honestly English” and some typical topics she talks about and teaches, including the #MeToo movement and our favourite female superheroes and comedians. Videos and links below.
Today on the podcast I have another interview for you to listen to as part of your learning English routine. This time I am talking to Jessica Beck, who you might know from the IELTS Energy Podcast.
I have spoken to Jessica before on this podcast, back in episode 297 when we talked about using humour in the speaking part of the IELTS test.
IELTS Energy is an appropriate title for that podcast because Jessica has loads of energy as you will hear. When we recorded this conversation it was 7AM for her (because of the time difference) which is pretty early for podcasting but she was already wide awake and ready to go. Maybe it’s that American can-do attitude, or the coffee she’s been drinking, I don’t know, but her energy is infectious. It’s one of the hallmarks of the IELTS Energy Podcast in fact, and the All Ears English podcast, which she is also associated with.
Just in case you don’t know, Jessica Beck is an English teacher who lives in Portland, which is in Oregon, which is in the north-west of the USA, which is in North America, which is in America, which is on earth. So you’re going to be listening to a combination of Jessica’s American English and my British English in this conversation.
So, Jessica does IELTS Energy, but she’s on my podcast today because she has just launched a new website and YouTube channel called Honestly English, and I thought we could talk a bit about that and some of the topics she’s been teaching recently in her videos. https://honestlyenglish.com/
So “Honestly English” – this is her own channel, her own project and therefore is a space where she can teach English in her own way and cover topics that mean a lot to her personally and since Jessica is a huge pop culture nerd her videos and blog posts all contain loads of references to movies and comic books and things like that. She is also very passionate about feminism and raising the status of women in society today.
So these are the things we’re talking about in this episode: The MeToo movement, some language relating to that, then women in pop culture and some superhero characters from the Marvel cinematic universe (specifically Captain Marvel, who will be arriving in cinemas early next year in the Captain Marvel movie and then in Avengers 4 I think) and we also talk about some female comedians from the UK and the USA that we’d like to recommend.
I mentioned the MeToo movement there. I think this is a global phenomenon but you might call it something else in your country. In France it was called #BalanceTonPorc which directly translates as “Balance your pork” or “balance your pig” which doesn’t really mean anything does it – the proper translation of that would be something like “denounce your pig” or “name and shame your abuser”. That’s how #MeToo is known in France, and it may have another name in your country.
Wikipedia defines #MeToo like this:
The Me Too movement (or #MeToo movement), with many local and international alternatives, is a movement against sexual harassment and sexual assault. #MeToo spread virally in October 2017 as a hashtag used on social media in an attempt to demonstrate the widespread prevalence of sexual assault and harassment, especially in the workplace. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Me_Too_movement
So MeToo is all about encouraging women to come forward and share their experiences of harassment of various kinds. Speaking personally, I knew that women often have to put up with dangerous and just plain weird behaviour from creepy guys – like being approached in the street, feeling unsafe in certain places or just putting up with dodgy comments and behaviour at work. I knew that, but the MeToo movement did open my eyes to how much of this kind of thing Women have to put up with every day. I think about my daughter and the kind of society she’s going to grow up in and I want her to grow up in a culture in which she feels safe, she feels she can talk about things that happen to her, in which she won’t have to just accept certain behaviour from men, and I want her to have cool characters and comedians on TV and in films that she can relate too, just like I did during my childhood.
I know this is actually a bit of a touchy subject. There’s a lot of pushing and pulling going on in terms of people arguing about the place of men and women in society and both men and women feeling targeted, victimsed or demonised and things like that. I’ve seen so many arguments in online comment sections. I find all of that stuff quite exhausting to be honest.
I see arguments on YouTube and people getting really angry on both sides about something like a perceived feminist agenda in Star Wars or Doctor Who, for example and then I see other people getting really angry about those people getting angry about feminism in Star Wars or Doctor Who and I’m just sitting here trying not to get angry about people getting angry about other people getting angry about some people getting angry about feminism in Star Wars or Doctor Who or movies and culture in general and I just think oh can we just have a normal conversation? I don’t know.
In any case, let’s find out from Jessica about her new website, let’s learn some of the words and phrases she can tell us about the MeToo movement and also let’s talk about Marvel movies and some great comedians that you might like to check out.
There are links and videos on the page for this episode as usual if you want examples of the comedians we are talking about, and links for Jessica’s website and stuff. So check those out.
Alright then, so this is Jessica Beck, energetic at 7 o’clock in the morning. American English and British English combined in one conversation, and here we go…
Nerdy English lessons focusing on vocabulary and pop culture!
Slang, idioms, natural phrases, the origins and context of that vocabulary.
For example, “Nailed it” (see video below)
The Language of the #MeToo Movement
A recent post on Honestly English about the #MeToo Movement
Language to describe “dirty dudes”
A creepy guy
To harass someone / harassment
Favourite Female Comedians
Mentioned by Jessica
Kathleen Madigan (stand up comedian)
Annie (Kristen Wiig) vs the “perfect” best friend
Melissa McCarthy (comedian / actress)
St Vincent (film)
Mentioned by Luke
Maria captures the experience of being a woman dealing with mental health issues, by recreating the voices and attitudes of other people in her life, particularly her mother and sister who she imitates. They sound patronising and subtly judgemental and of course there are jokes in there but they are so cleverly weaved into her routine. She does brilliant voices and shifts her attitude quite radically. Her normal voice sounds very vulnerable, and the other voices are so much more confident and strident.
OK, she’s strange but that’s the point.
Maria Bamford Netflix show – Lady Dynamite
Maria Bamford interview on WTF with Marc Maron
French & Saunders
On TV all through my childhood. Came out of the anarchic post-punk era in UK comedy. Two English women who were just funny in the way they bickered with each other and also took the piss out of Hollywood movies and celebrities. They’re national treasures.
French & Saunders making fun of Mama Mia
Another national treasure who was on telly all the time. She was like a housewife who was also a comedian. Not like Rosanne Barr, but a normal middle class English woman – a bit like the mum of one of your friends, but she did stand up, sketches and did comedy songs on the piano. She was one of the first stand ups I ever saw, along with various other UK comedians at the time. Her comedy was quite local in flavour, meaning she made reference to things like accents and local identity. Died in 2016 along with loads of other celebs. Bowie, Ali, Prince etc
A stand up who describes the kind of life that most women (of my generation) experience in the UK, while making it very funny. She talks about all the things that women go through relating to relationships and work. She’s very relatable and it’s like observational comedy about relationships and life (but it’s not shit observational comedy).
Sarah Pascoe in Edinburgh
Podcasts recomended by Jessica
- Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me (NPR)
- Paula Poundstone
- Tawny Newsome
YouTube “Honestly English” – videos every Thursday
Facebook Honestly English https://www.facebook.com/HonestlyEnglish/
This episode is all about philosophy and how this applies to language learning. Listen to me describing 8 different ‘schools’ of philosophical thought. Are hedonists good language learners? How do rationalists and empiricists disagree about how we learn languages? Is language learning an innate ability or just something that can only happen as a result of things we do after we’re born? And, how does philosophy answer life’s big questions such as, “What’s life all about?” “What are we doing here?” and “What shall we have for dinner?” Transcript Available.
Transcript – 95% complete
What’s it all about then eh? This is a question that people have been attempting to answer for bloody ages. Nobody seems to be able to agree or decide for certain what the purpose of our existence is, or even what the true nature of reality is, but over the years the things people have said and written in response to this question have influenced our lives in loads of ways, without us even realising it.
Considering the question of “What’s it all about?” is basically the foundation of philosophy and in this episode I’m going to talk about philosophy and define a few of the main types of philosophy that exist.
I’ll also attempt to apply those different types of philosophy to the understanding of language learning if I can. And if I can’t, I’ll just make a jam sandwich or something.
So, with this episode you can learn English relating to lots of things, including abstract ideas, ethics, science, debate, reason, logic, experience and academic thought in general, and also we can consider the process of language learning from a couple of different points of view.
A while ago I found a questionnaire online which was called “Which school of philosophy do you belong to?”
I thought, “that makes a change from the usual stupid quizzes, like ‘Which Star Wars character are you?’ ‘Which type of biscuit are you?’, ‘Which type of fluff are you? The fluff in the corner of the room, the fluff in the tumble dryer, the fluff in your belly button, the fluff that collects in your jacket pocket or the fluff which collects under the strings of a guitar that never gets played?’ (I was the fluff in your jacket pocket by the way).
This one was about philosophy – “Which school of philosophical thought do you belong to?”
And I thought “ooh, I haven’t done an episode about philosophy on the podcast. That might be an interesting, yet fun way to explore a fairly intellectual topic.
I thought it would be an interesting way for Paul, Amber and me to have an intelligent and highbrow discussion (instead of just talking about poo or Russian jokes or having accordions for legs – although they are, of course, perfectly valid topics of conversation).
I haven’t talked directly about philosophy on the podcast before. So I thought it could be an interesting subject for the podpals to discuss.
And we got together a couple of months ago actually, and recorded ourselves going through the quiz in order to find out what school of philosophy each of us belongs to, based on the ways we live our lives and think about the world.
However, the conversation that we recorded ended up being quite heavy. We got a bit bogged down in just trying to understand, interpret and discuss what each question really meant. Not only did we have to try and make sense of the different types of philosophy, we also just had to try and understand the fairly complex questions in the quiz.
It made me think “ooh, this might just be a bit difficult to listen to – a complicated conversation and a complicated topic – it could be a bit of a challenge for the LEPsters.”
I will play you the conversation and you can hear our discussion, and you can also do the quiz with us while you listen, if you like.
But that’s going to be in the next episode because I thought it would be a good idea for me to talk to you about philosophy first, and to define some terms, before you hear our conversation. That should make it a bit easier for you to follow what Paul, Amber and I are going on about, while also making it possible for you to perhaps learn some things about philosophy and also the language we use when talking about philosophy and while tackling the big questions, like “What’s it all about?” and “What shall we have for dinner?” (well, maybe not that one – although it is rather a big question as I’m sure you’ll agree).
Now, I know you might not be philosophers. I have all sorts of people listening to this, from many different backgrounds. Some of you might be academic types, others not. Some of you are the types of people who like complex and abstract discussions, others might be the types of people who would rather listen to us talk about more tangible things, like Amber’s son doing a poo under a table, or something like that.
In any case, I like to present a fairly wide range of topics on this podcast and I think that’s important for your English.
So, let’s talk about 8 different schools of philosophical thought, and then you can listen to Amber, Paul and me taking that quiz, and hopefully it will make a bit more sense to you!
And by the way, if you would rather hear that story of Amber’s son doing a poo under a table in a restaurant (which is a real story) just listen to episode 380 again. You can find it in the archive.
What is philosophy?
Philosophy is all about how we understand the world and how we make sense of everything around us.
It’s not just “why are we here?” or just “what’s it all about?” it helps us to create the assumptions behind how we understand pretty much everything.
Really, it’s about attempting to answer questions that relate to every aspect of our lives.
Wikipedia: It is the study of general and fundamental problems concerning matters such as existence, knowledge, values, reason, the mind, and language. The term was probably coined by Pythagoras (c. 570–495 BCE). Philosophical methods include questioning, critical discussion, rational argument, and systematic presentation. Classic philosophical questions include: Is it possible to know anything and to prove it? What is most real? Philosophers also pose more practical and concrete questions such as: Is there a best way to live? Is it better to be just or unjust (if one can get away with it)? Do humans have free will?
So, philosophy is the study of how we understand everything, and the answers to these questions form assumptions about so many things including :
- Education (What should children do at school and why are schools important in the first place? How should we organise our universities?)
- Health (How do we understand our bodies – how do we know what will make us strong or weak, healthy or sick?)
- Politics (What is the best way to run the country?)
- Science (What is the nature of reality? How do we measure that? Can science solve the problems we face? What is the scientific method and can it help us to discover the truth about the world?)
- Debate and communication (What is the most effective way to argue your point in a discussion? What are the most effective ways to present information to people?)
- Religion (Who or what is God and does he exist? How does this relate to the choices we make in life? Do we even have choices?)
- Language (What is language? How does it work? What does it tell us about us as people? How do we learn it? Should it be controlled? What constitutes “good” and “bad” language?)
- Ethics (How do we decide what is the right or wrong thing to do in any situation)
An example of an ethical question is “if your neighbours are having a loud party late at night, is it ok for you to call the police to stop the party?”
Imagine – your neighbours are having a loud party and it’s keeping you awake. What should you do?
Here are some of the reasons for stopping it: it’s annoying for you personally, it’s annoying for everyone in the area, it’s somehow damaging behaviour for them – i.e. because they need sleep and shouldn’t drink, it’s breaking a rule imposed by the government. Or reasons for not stopping the party: everyone has the right to have a party sometimes, it would be rude to interrupt their celebration, the police might be unreasonably aggressive with them and someone might end up being arrested or even physically harmed, or
“if they don’t stop playing that music now I will go round there and murder everyone in the building, especially if they play THAT song again”.
These are the sorts of questions that philosophers might spend a lot of time thinking about, especially if their neighbours were having a noisy party next door. The philosopher might spend ages pondering the question of exactly what to do, even if most people would just bang on the wall and tell the neighbours to “shut up! For god’s sake shut up or I’ll call the police” assuming of course that god exists and that the police have got nothing better to do, other than sit around smoking cigarettes.)
Still on that example of the ethics of “having a loud party in a highly populated area”, one of the big responses might be “it’s unfair for these people to have this party, because it is simply unethical for a small group of people to be happy at the expense of the happiness of the majority of people living in the surrounding area.” which would be a very reasonable thing to say under the circumstances. I imagine most people would just think “Those bastards! Those bastards! Those bloody bastards!!!” (which is not an established philosophical position, I think)
The ethical principle I described there (not the “you bastards position” but the “happiness for the majority of people is the deciding factor” position, is: What benefits the majority of people is the right thing to do. English philosopher Jeremy Bentham might come to mind, when considering this idea, if you know who Jeremy Bentham is. If you don’t know who he is, and have never heard his name before, I’d be very surprised if he comes to your mind, to be honest. You might just be thinking “How can I get my neighbours to turn down the music?” and suddenly – JEREMY BENTHAM! – that would be weird.
Anyway, Bentham said “it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number [of people] that is the measure of right and wrong”. This is the foundation of utilitarianism – a system which influenced lots of people and, for example, contributed to the construction of the welfare state – that’s the system in the UK that provides healthcare for everyone, but which is probably paid for mainly by the people with incomes – the people who earn money from their work, and the higher the income the more you pay – as tax. As long as most people are made happy, this is the right way to run a society. People who work should pay tax and a lot of that tax should go towards a healthcare system that is available for everyone, even those people who don’t work and even if it means that some people who earn more money are also paying more.
This is an example of how a philosophical idea – in this case “utilitarianism” has an impact on the political policy of a nation, and how that can affect everything else.
You can see here that philosophy is at the centre of all the big questions that we face in society – both personal and communal. E.g. Should guns be legal? Should I buy a gun? Should drugs be legalised? Am I a bad person if I take drugs? Should we download films from torrenting sites, or buy them from the established distributors? Is it wrong if I watch a pirated film on the internet without paying for it? Does it matter which film it is? What if the film is a big-budget blockbuster like Transformers? What if I wouldn’t have actually paid for it anyway? Should I feel guilty if I listen to episodes of Luke’s English Podcast and yet I never send him a donation for his hard work? (by the way the answers to all those questions, in order, are “It depends, it depends, it depends, it depends, it depends, it depends, it depends, it depends, it depends, YES)
All these questions are philosophical at their very heart – in most cases here we’re talking about ethics, which is just one branch of philosophy.
Different “Schools of Thought”
There are lots of philosophical schools of thought. Not all of them are completely different. Some are quite similar. They came out of different contexts: different people, different periods of time and different places.
Let me go through some of them. Which one do you agree with? It’s quite possible that you agree with more than just one of these things, because I think most of us probably take a bit from here, a bit from there, and have a complex and diverse way of making decisions and understanding the world. In fact I’m quite sure that the general culture in the world is now a combination of all these different schools of philosophical thought, as well as all sorts of other influences, such as traditional customs and beliefs. But there was a time when many the thinking processes that we consider now to be just part of normal common sense didn’t even exist. A lot of the general assumptions that we have about questions of ethics, politics and even language were not always there. Basically, I mean – people used to be really really stupid – like mind numbingly stupid, and slowly but surely, over decades, centuries and millenia, a complex dialogue about the big questions has been going on, involving people from different countries. Various conclusions have been made and a certain amount of progress has been achieved in general thinking… even though some people in the world still enjoy the music of Rick Astley.
The different schools of thought that have appeared over the years are like different realisations – like different rooms in this big palace of thinking that we now all have access too.
So if you feel like it’s hard to make a distinction between some of these schools of thought, that’s ok – some of them are quite similar and in fact over the years they have combined to an extent, so that today it can be hard to distinguish between them. They’re not mutually exclusive.
Also, there are other positions or ways of looking at the world that might emphasise politics, economics or psychology which aren’t included here. E.g. if you believe that the defining force in your life is your place in the class system or wealth system in society, or how your life is dictated by those in power or by the decisions of your bosses, or the police – you might turn out to be a Marxist, or something like that. Or if you think that your experiences as a child are the most influential factors in how your life has meaning, you might be a Freudian, or simply if you believe that our lives are entirely dictated by some sort of intelligent creator who has designed everything including all existence and everything that happens, has happened or will happen – then you might be a religious person like a Christian or a Muslim or something.
Or perhaps if you believe that your life is given meaning by how you interact with audio content uploaded onto an internet based RSS feed, which you then consume through headphones attached to your ears, you might be a LEPsterian.
But again, it’s most likely that your worldview is some sort of combination of all these different schools of thought and of course a lot of the time we don’t really know which school of thought we belong to, because it’s not football. You don’t need to pick a team or anything. And it’s much more complicated than football, and perhaps less fun than football. Certainly in the UK hardly anyone goes around saying “well, I’m an epicurean so I disagree with what you said” or “Hey, shall we get pizza this evening?” “Well, I’d quite like to have noodles so speaking as a platonist I think we should have a debate about it and then choose our dinner based on the outcome of that argument, perhaps you would like to start by outlining your predicates for why you believe pizza is the best option…” Nobody does that, right? But anyway, here we go – different schools of philosophy, in alphabetical order, not chronological. As you’re listening to this you can just think about these questions:
a) Do I understand what the hell this position is all about?
b) Do I agree with this? Is this a good way to look at the world and make decisions?
The basic ideas of empiricism were probably first established by Persian and Arabic philosophers in the 11th and 12th centuries, and then developed into the more established positions by British and Irish philosophers from the 17th century into the 20th century.
Knowledge can only come from what you see and experience with your own eyes. “I’ll believe it when I see it” or “It’s only true if we can actually observe it.” Observation tells us what is true.
This is often contrasted with rationalism which basically says that you can use logic and reasoning to work something out without observing it – e.g. that there are rules of logic that are always true and that these define what will happen.
Empiricism basically says – I don’t trust any other information than the information I’ve seen and I can only know something after I’ve actually seen it, observed it, measured it. So, knowledge is something that comes after our experience.
Rationalism on the other hand says that there are certain universal laws of logic which will ultimately give you the truth about something. So, knowledge exists before us and it’s a matter of uncovering it.
Empiricism is all about ‘what comes after’ and rationalism is about ‘what comes before’.
The ‘what comes after’ means that the knowledge you have of something comes after you’ve observed it.
The ‘what comes before’ means that the principles of logic that exist before an event – universal laws of logic that everyone is born with the ability to use. These laws of logic are then applied to something in order to help us understand it.
So, for ‘flat earth’ an empiricist would say “Let’s look at the earth. Let’s measure it. If it looks round, we’ll know it’s round”. This is limited because sometimes our senses can be wrong. We might not be able to see things, and our senses might even distort what we’re seeing. E.g. for flat earth we can’t see the curvature of the earth from our current position, even if we’re in a plane, even though the curvature is there, because of our relatively close proximity to the earth. You’d need to travel to the edge of the atmosphere to see the curvature, and not many people can do that. So, a problem with being an empiricist is that you put too much faith in your senses, which can be misleading and can’t cover all aspects of knowledge – e.g. stuff that we can’t actually see – like gravity. I think there’s also an argument that the act of observing something has an effect on it. So, observation is not 100% perfect.
I think that the best approach would probably combine both systems, that to prove that the earth is round you’d observe the earth, measure it but also apply different mathematical laws or physical laws to it.
How does it relate to language?
We can align the rationalism side of things with the idea of ‘language nativism’. Rationalists say that we are all born with the ability to use logic and reason, that it is innate to us – perhaps part of our genes. Language nativists argue that we are born with an innate ability to learn languages. That language learning is in our genes. That all of us learn languages in the same way (regardless of the language) and that it is instinctual.
Language empiricists on the other hand believe that language is something that only happens after we are born – that it is something that we learn, rather than something that is kind of built into us genetically.
This is an ancient school of thought created by a Epicurius from Athens in ancient Greece – around 300 years before the birth of Jesus Christ (307 BC).
This was when people were just trying to work out how to live properly – coming up with approaches to the best way to live your life. These days we are inundated by different methods and approaches to how to live your life. Think of all the lifestyle magazines and articles about dieting and making the right life choices and career moves. Once upon a time, people hadn’t really worked that out, and the philosophers in Ancient Greece really paved the way for this sort of thing. It seems they spent an awful lot of time sitting around trying to work out what human beings should really be doing with their lives beyond just surviving like all the other species on earth.
Epicurius believed that pleasure and pain are the only things that have intrinsic value to beings, and that the goal of life was to maximise pleasure and minimise pain for both yourself and others.
He taught that people thus needed four virtues: prudence (caution – being careful), justice, friendliness and fortitude (courage and the ability to withstand pain and difficulty). Epicurus emphasised that the pleasure from an action must be weighed against the negative side effects, a concept that could be called the ‘pleasure calculation’. For example, you could save up £1000, buy twenty kilograms of chocolate, and eat it all at the same time. In this case though, you need to weigh the pleasure of eating chocolate against the inevitable stomach ache and the weight you’ll gain from eating a third of your body weight in chocolate. Epicurus had a second part of the pleasure calculation that he said to consider: is it worth the momentary benefit of £1000 of chocolate or buying a new bike a bit later for £1100?
The greater pleasure, even if it causes a slight negative effect at the moment, is the greater good. Epicurus also taught that sensual pleasures weren’t all that there was to the world. Epicurus noted that appreciation of art and friendship also count as pleasure. Moreover, Epicurus taught that the enjoyment of life also required old Greek ideals of self-control, temperance, and serenity. Desires need to be curbed, and serenity will help us to endure the pain we may face. Epicurus also preached altruism over self-interest. Said he that friendship “dances around the world, calling all people to a life of happiness.” He taught that the best life for the individual is one that is lived with other people for their benefit in addition to the individual’s own benefit. (RationalWiki)
No idea what he says about language to be honest!
Perhaps that when choosing to learn another language we should measure the benefits of learning that language against the pain we might experience as a result.
I’m pretty sure we can all agree that while learning English can be painful, frustrating, confusing and embarrassing, the benefit of learning this language clearly outweighs those negative things. So, on balance Epicurius would probably say – “Go ahead and learn English! And make friends with people while you’re doing it!”
Would a hedonist make a good language learner?
I imagine a hedonist might be a bit lazy, especially if learning a language from scratch doesn’t involve much bodily pleasure.
But perhaps hedonists might learn language if it meant gaining access to more forms of gratification. E.g. they might learn language in order to seduce people, get access to alcohol, drugs, or other forms of bodily pleasure! I expect a hedonist’s vocabulary would be rather limited to dirty words, useful phrases for drug deals and pillow talk.
I’m certain that humanists put a high value on language as a means of connecting with other people in the world. Humanists might have a democratic and prescriptive approach to language too.
It’s pretty confusing, but to boil it down let’s say: Plato basically invented the first university – a place called The Academy which was positioned outside the city limits of Greece. This was where he delivered lectures to his students and engaged in debates. This was the foundation of certain academic principles and methods. Those academic “for and against” essays that you might have to write at university, or for an IELTS Writing part 2 – that all started with Plato and his academy.
He believed highly in the value of debate, argument and discourse as a way of reaching certain eternal “higher truths” – these are truths which are eternal. He thought that ‘ideas’ were more important than ‘matter’ (physical stuff) and that the persuit of knowledge or the process of learning is a question of uncovering universal truths that already exist in our immortal souls.
From a language point of view, Plato believed that ultimate knowledge already exists inside us and it’s just a matter of uncovering it.
Noam Chomsky has applied this idea to his understanding of linguistics – how languages work, specifically in the idea that there is a Universal Grammar that we are all born with.
Basically, the idea is something like this – how do native English speakers know exactly how to use grammatical forms like present perfect tense correctly, without having formally studied it or been taught it?
E.g. my brother James knows when a sentence is right or wrong – e.g when present perfect is being used correctly or not, although he’s never been taught English grammar. How did he learn it? The idea is that James, like all of us, was born with an innate understanding of grammar.
1. Plato’s Problem
The writings of Plato stretch all the way back to the beginnings of Western philosophical thought, but Plato was already posing problems critical to modern linguistic discourse.
In the nature versus nurture debate, Plato tended to side with nature, believing that knowledge was innate.
This was his answer to what has become known as Plato’s Problem, or as Bertrand Russell summarizes it: “How comes it that human beings, whose contacts with the world are brief and personal and limited, are nevertheless able to know as much as they do know?” Being born with this knowledge from the get-go would naturally solve this little quandary and consequently he viewed language as innate.
Personally, I just can’t agree with this. What about people who are rubbish at grammar because they’ve had no exposure to it?
(Note: I’ve changed my mind! I think we must be born with the innate ability to learn grammar – but the whole subject is difficult to fully understand)
Skepticism (or Scepticism in the UK spelling)
At its simplest, Skepticism holds that one should refrain from making truth claims, and avoid the postulation of final truths. This is not necessarily quite the same as claiming that truth is impossible (which would itself be a truth claim), but is often also used to cover the position that there is no such thing as certainty in human knowledge (sometimes referred to as Academic Skepticism).
Language Learning & Scepticism
For language learning, you could say that a sceptic would avoid jumping to conclusions about the language being learned. E.g. when you think you’ve learned a rule about the language, avoid saying “this is always true”. E.g. The idea that quantifiers like “some / any” are always used in a certain way. You might learn from an intermediate book that “some” is used in affirmative sentences and “any” is used in questions or negative – but watch out, that so-called rule is often broken. So, a language learning sceptic might avoid thinking “this is always true” or “this is never correct”.
Stoicism was founded in Athens by Zeno of Citium in the early 3rd century BC, but was famously practiced by the likes of Epictetus, Seneca and Marcus Aurelius. The philosophy asserts that virtue (such as wisdom) is happiness and judgment should be based on behavior, rather than words. That we don’t control and cannot rely on external events, only ourselves and our responses.
Stoicism has just a few central teachings. It sets out to remind us of how unpredictable the world can be. How brief our moment of life is. How to be steadfast, and strong, and in control of yourself. And finally, that the source of our dissatisfaction lies in our impulsive dependency on our reflexive senses rather than logic.
Stoicism doesn’t concern itself with complicated theories about the world, but with helping us overcome destructive emotions and act on what can be acted upon. It’s built for action, not endless debate.
I found this article on Benny Lewis’s website “Fluent in 3 Months” and it’s doing exactly what I’m doing (or trying to do) in this episode – applying certain principles of philosophy to language learning.
This one is written by Jeremy Ginsburg, who describes himself as a writer, entrepreperformer and language learner and you’ll find it on
So there you go folks. 8 different schools of philosophical thought.
Empiricism, Epicureanism, Existentialism, Hedonism, Humanism, Platonism, Scepticism, Stoicism.
There are many more types of philosophy than that of course, but that was just a series of 8, based on this online survey that Amber, Paul and I took recently.
If you’re feeling a bit confused
Don’t worry, I totally understand. Honestly, I’m a bit confused too. That’s normal. This stuff isn’t supposed to be easy, that’s why people have been thinking about it and going on about it for thousands of years.
Really, philosophy is all about wisdom and trying to understand things better, make the right decisions and choose the correct way of life.
I wonder what school of philosophy you associate with most?
Also, if you’d like to listen to Amber, Paul and me finding out which school of philosophy we belong to – just wait until the next episode to hear our discussion.
Thanks for listening!
A conversation about travelling and learning languages with Ethan from RealLife English. Ethan is very well-travelled, having lived in at least 6 different countries. He’s also learned a few different languages to a good level as an adult. Let’s talk about his advice for adapting to new cultures and learning languages in adulthood. Vocabulary notes and language test available below.
A Summary of what Ethan said
How to adapt to a new culture
- Arrive with an open mind and be ready to try anything
- Don’t just hang out with people from your country
- You have to make an effort to integrate into the country
- Things might be weird, but you’ll end up having some really memorable experiences
- Push yourself to live like a local, even if at first you feel like the lifestyle isn’t as good as it is in your country
- Get over yourself! Get out of your comfort zone
- Don’t go just to learn English, go somewhere for the whole experience – and if you do that you’ll probably learn English more effectively as a result
Ethan’s advice for learning English on your own
- Watch a popular TV show with subtitles – it’s important to choose a show that you like.
- Listen to music and taking the time to look up the lyrics.
- He just talked to people, even though he was really awkward and shy because he made lots of mistakes.
- Motivation is key – he fell in love with Catalan and this gave him the motivation to push through the difficult moments, the awkwardness etc. So build and nurture your motivation to learn a language. Realise how good it is for you to come out of your shell and remember that you can get over your barriers if you really want to.
- Find the right people to talk to, find people who are understanding and sympathetic to your situation (someone who’s learning a language too).
- Do a language exchange because the other person will be much more likely to tolerate your errors, and will be willing to help you out because you’re going to do the same for them. (you can use italki to find language partners in many countries – http://www.teacherluke.co.uk/talk )
- Be voraciously curious – cultivate the desire to do more. If you’re listening to music, check the lyrics and look them up. While watching TV use a notepad or an app like Evernote on your phone to note down vocab and then look it up later.
- Practice by speaking to other non-native speakers of the language you’re learning. Other learners of the language are likely to be more sympathetic, they’ll probably have more in common with you, they might have some good advice, you’re going through a similar experience. Having peers with whom you can share your experience is really important.
Some language from the first part of the conversation (Quiz below)
Listen to this episode to get some definitions and descriptions of this language.
- Refurbished buildings (made to look new again)
- You can see some random smokestacks and things sticking up (tall chimneys)
- Three blocks from the beach. (distance between his place and the beach)
- I tend to go running there (I usually go running there. Not –
I am used to going running there)
- The weather hasn’t really been beach-appropriate (appropriate for a beach!)
- We’re just rolling into fall here (entering) (fall = autumn)
- I enjoy running by the beach, especially because the whole area around the beach is very iconic from when they had the Olympics here (impressive because it’s a famous symbol of something)
- A modernist humongous whale structure (massive)
- Every time I look at it I’m just astounded, it’s beautiful. (amazed)
- Language for describing Ethan’s background (background – narrative tenses, past simple, past continuous, maybe some past perfect)
- I moved back here (already) two months ago.
- I was living here two times before, once for a year and a half and once for 3 months. (normally I’d use ‘I lived’ but perhaps he was thinking of it as a temporary thing in both cases)
- Ways he talks about his current situation – present perfect to describe past events with a connection to now.
- I’ve come back to stay, probably indefinitely, hopefully for a couple of years. (this is the only example actually)
- Describing your background and your current situation
Describing your background
You need to use narrative tenses to describe your background story, and you need to learn how to do this in English and to be able to repeat it with some confidence. It might be worth thinking of how you can make your background story quite interesting or entertaining, or at least say how you felt about it. It just helps in social situations.
Past simple – the main events of the story – the main sequence
Past continuous – the situation at the time, or longer events which are interrupted by shorter actions
Past perfect – background events to the main events of the story
E.g. I went to university in Liverpool and studied Media & Cultural Studies. It was a really interesting degree, but it wasn’t very useful. I stayed in Liverpool for a while and played music in a band but we didn’t make it and I left and moved back in with my parents which was a bit of a nightmare. I didn’t really know what to do with myself for a while, but I decided I wanted to travel and go somewhere quite different, and I‘d always been curious about teaching, so I trained to be an English teacher and I got my first job in Japan. I stayed there for a couple of years, had a great time but decided that I wanted to come back because of family reasons. I taught English in London for 8 years, did my DELTA, got a job in a good school in London and then I met a French girl and I moved to France so we could be together. I’m very romantic. (actually that was almost exclusively past simple, wasn’t it?)Describing your current situation
Then you also need to talk about your current situation. We do this with present simple (permanent situations) and present continuous (temporary situations) and present perfect to talk about past actions with a connection to now.
E.g. I live in Paris these days. I’ve been here for about 5 years. I’ve worked for a few different schools, teaching English. These days I teach at The British Council. I’ve been there for about 3 years now. I’m also developing some online courses which I hope to release on my website before too long!
- I’m from Colorado in the USA. Luke: Oh cool. (I said cool – because you should say cool when someone tells you where they’re from, or at least you should show some interest or curiosity, and be positive about it.)
- It’s below Canada and above Mexico, between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. (my non-specific description of where Colorado is – basically, it’s somewhere in the USA, haha etc)
- It’s (to the) north east of Arizona, (to the) east of Utah, above New Mexico.
- What’s the difference between ‘east of London’, ‘to the east of London’ and ‘in the east of London‘?
- The four corners – it’s just a couple of hours away from the town I grew up in. (how would you put that in your language? “It takes two hours to get there”, “It’s a couple of hours from here”
- It’s a tourist trap now. You go and put your hand in the middle and you’re in four states at once. (a place that attracts tourists and is probably best avoided)
- I was born in my house. Durango, Colorado. That’s the town I lived in.
- When I was 17 I moved to Germany for 6 months.
- It’s interesting to see that, when you’ve lived in a place for 20 years, how it evolves. (how it changes gradually over time)
- Colorado is wonderful, it’s spectacular. (magnificent, amazing, breathtaking)
- We’re so active, we’re always outdoors. There are spectacular hikes you can do.
- There are 4,000 or 5,000 metre peaks. (summits, mountain tops)
- It’s very different to Europe because you get that kind of old-west feeling. (from the period of western expansion) (wild west – cowboys and lawlessness)
- My only criticism is that I lived there for 20 years, which is more than enough. (nice way to start a sentence with something negative in it)…. (more than enough = too much)
- I’ve never seen a grizzly, and they are dangerous. (grizzly bear)
- Mountain Lions – if you were by yourself and you encountered one, it might not be a great end for you. You might get eaten alive by a huge cat. (You don’t meet a wild animal, you encounter one.)
- We have deer and elk and in the north we also have moose, and a lot of, we’d say, critters, like small animals. (deer = animals that look like they have trees growing out of their heads – you know what I mean. Like Santa Claus’ reindeer. Elk = big deer. Moose = really big elk. Critters – little animals like rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, rats, raccoons, skunks)
- In the US you drive from city to city and you see endless expanses of mountains and plains. (wide open spaces)
- That’s a fun question so I’d have to think. (a nice way to buy time for yourself when someone asks you a question, like saying “that’s a good question, let me think”)
- When I was in high school I did a 6 month exchange in Germany and during that time I also got to live in Poland for 2 weeks. (difference between for and during?)
- I lived in Spain in Majorca for a year during college, which is when I fell in love with this place.
Some time expressions to help you tell a story:
- After that, after school, I moved to Brazil.
- I joined RealLife English because they had started a few months before I moved there.
- That’s when I moved to Barcelona. Then I moved to Chile for 6 months. Now finally I‘ve moved back here.
- After that you can imagine I’m a bit tired of jumping around so much and living out of a back pack. Now I’m here to stay for a while.
Were you listening carefully? Test yourself.
[os-widget path=”/lukethompson2/language-test-for-ethan-s-episode” of=”lukethompson2″ comments=”false”]
Did I mention this? I was recently interviewed on the RealLife English Podcast – you can listen to it here…
We talked about using comedy TV shows and humour in learning English. Check it out below.
RealLife English – Links
The holiday diary continues and in this chapter we visited Bel Air in L.A. and so here is an analysis of the lyrics to Will Smith’s rap from “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air”, a famous TV show (and a very serious piece of work, haha) from the 90s which was set in Bel Air itself. Topics covered: TV pop culture, racial politics, slang English.
Episode Notes, Lyrics & Vocabulary
By the way, these are flapjacks, just in case you were wondering. Yum.
Did you get The Fresh Prince of Bel Air on TV in your country?
I used to watch the TV show a lot when I was younger (in the 90s).
Yes, the Fresh Prince is American English but I consider it also to be global English and you should too. Also, I think everyone should know or at least be able to repeat one or two of the lines from this rap, right?
So let’s listen to it and analyse some of the lyrics.
It’s not even a great rap, that’s the thing! It’s just a laugh! It’s not exactly the Wu Tang Clan or anything… Anyway…
The Fresh Prince of Bel Air – language analysis & cultural commentary
Summary of the story
This rap basically sets up the scenario of the show. Did you work out the details of the story?
Will Smith is an ordinary guy from a rough part of Philadelphia. The area where he lives is too rough and dangerous, so his mum decides he has to move in with his aunt and uncle, who happen to live in Bel Air, in Los Angeles. The aunt and uncle are rich and successful. The uncle (Uncle Phil) is a top lawyer. This is obviously possible, but quite rare.
Is it just a funny TV show, or is it about race relations and racial politics in the USA?
I’m not sure I am fully qualified to talk about racial politics in the USA. The fact is, despite the American dream which says anyone can make it, it appears to be much harder for a black guy to become a millionaire than for a white guy to do it. I’m not saying why that is, I’m just saying it. In fact, I’m reporting it as something I’ve heard Chris Rock say, so fine – not my words, the words of Chris Rock.
“Don’t hate the player, hate the game”.
“You don’t get plaques for getting rid of plaque.” (two meanings of the word ‘plaque’ – listen to hear the explanations)
“The black man gotta fly to get something the white man can walk to.”
“I had to host the Oscars to get that house.”
Listen to the episode to hear my language analysis and some comparisons with British English.
I’ll tell you which bits of vocab are “standard” (i.e. not specific slang – the stuff everyone should know) and “slang” (i.e. the stuff that’s more specific to the informal English you might hear from Will Smith or the social group of the time)
Fresh Prince of Bel Air – Rap, Long version
Now, this is a story all about how
My life got flipped, turned upside down
And I’d like to take a minute
So just sit right there
I’ll tell you how I became the prince of a town called Bel Air
In west Philadelphia born and raised
On the playground was where I spent most of my days
Chilling out, maxin‘ relaxin’ all cool
And all shootin some b-ball outside of the school
When a couple of guys who were up to no good
Started making trouble in my neighborhood
I got in one little fight and my mom got scared [UK – mum, USA – mom]
She said ‘You’re movin’ with your auntie and uncle in Bel Air’
I begged and pleaded with her day after day
But she packed my suit case and sent me on my way
She gave me a kiss and then she gave me my ticket.
I put my Walkman on and said, ‘I might as well kick it‘.
First class, yo this is bad
Drinking orange juice out of a champagne glass.
Is this what the people of Bel-Air living like?
Hmmmmm this might be alright.
But wait I hear they’re prissy, bourgeois, all that
Is this the type of place that they just send this cool cat?
I don’t think so
I’ll see when I get there
I hope they’re prepared for the prince of Bel-Air
Well, the plane landed and when I came out
There was a dude who looked like a cop standing there with my name out
I ain’t trying to get arrested yet
I just got here
I sprang with the quickness like lightning, disappeared
I whistled for a cab and when it came near
The license plate said “FRESH” and it had dice in (on) the mirror
If anything I could say that this cab was rare
But I thought ‘Nah, forget it’ – ‘Yo, holmes to Bel Air’
I pulled up to the house about 7 or 8
And I yelled to the cabbie ‘Yo holmes, smell ya later‘
I looked at my kingdom
I was finally there
To sit on my throne as the Prince of Bel Air
Songwriters: SMITH, WILLARD C. / TOWNES, JEFFREY
Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group
We drove around in Bel Air for a bit looking at houses like weird stalkers.
They’re huge and ostentatious (displaying wealth, showing off).
You get the impression that these people live in a bubble.
We came across Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s house which is unfinished.
Apparently they’re having problems with their neighbours who claim the house is obstructing their view.
I am not surprised because it is a but of a monstrosity.
Apparently they are getting sued by the neighbours or something. I think they’re claiming that it’s interfering with their enjoyment of their property.
Driving back down we went past another massive house and we could see helicopter rotor blades above the hedge. Someone’s got a helipad on their property. Mental.
Then we swung past the Scientology buildings again on the way home.
To be continued…
Hi everyone, I’m back from my holiday so here’s a new episode of the podcast. In this one you’ll hear me talking about some recent news (including quite a big announcement) and then an account of what we did on holiday including some descriptions, opinions and stories. There’s talk of disturbing political events, dodgy car rental experiences, and a couple of beautiful cities where urban life meets wild nature. Enjoy!
Notes & Transcript
Some of this text (below) is a full transcript of what I say in the episode, and other parts are just basic notes which I used while recording. So it’s not a 100% complete script.
Hello! I’m back from holiday!
How are you? Did you have a good August? Did you go anywhere?
Let us know in the comment section what you’ve been up to.
In this episode I want to just tell you about my holiday.
As you know, I’ve been away and it’s become sort of customary for me to give you a sort of holiday report whenever I come back from a trip away, so that’s what I’m going to do in this episode.
I’m going to describe places we visited, things we saw and I’ll tell a few little anecdotes along the way and give you my opinions on some things.
You will find some notes and transcriptions on the page for this episode if you want to read some of the words I’m saying, for example if you hear me say something in particular and you’re not sure what it is, check the episode page it will probably be there.
I don’t know how long this is going to be. I might divide it into a couple of episodes. It’ll be as long as it takes for me to just feel like I’ve told you the things that are on my mind and were on my mind while we were away.
Just before we start
- Andy interview part 2 (Episode 472) – it seems a lot of people were quite moved by Andy’s story. It was an emotional one. Andy deserves some respect for sharing it with us and for managing to get through such a terrifying experience when he was relatively young. It’s also interesting to see in the comments that many of you have had similar experiences to Andy or your lives have been affected by cancer in some way, and you have used running as a way to deal with it and so you found his account to be particularly poignant. Unfortunately cancer touches many people’s lives in one way or another. But a story in which someone beats it is always a reassuring boost to anyone who knows about it.
- Website only stuff – I hope you enjoyed some of the website only material I uploaded while I was away. There are three things in the episode archive that you won’t know about if you just subscribe to the audio podcast. One is an episode of Zdenek’s English Podcast in which he recorded us speaking in London when we met there and we had fun teaching some crime-related idioms and just making up some stuff about my supposed criminal past. The second thing is a DVD commentary track that I recorded with James for Star Wars Episode 4. We just sat down in his flat one evening, put on his Star Wars DVD and recorded our own commentary. That’s just for the Star Wars fans I suppose. You can just listen to it, or watch the film and listen at the same time and you’ll hear James and me discussing the various scenes, making fun of the film, doing some impressions of the characters and generally messing around over the top of the film. Then the third thing is a long musical mix that James and I did using his vinyl record collection. He has a lot of vinyl records, many of them original 7inch and 12inch singles from the 60s, 70s and 80s. We went through his records in a long mix and the plan was to go through a history of British music. THe mix has some speaking between the records and you’ll hear music all the way from 1961 to the mid 90s when we ran out of time. If you like music and you’d like to learn a bit about the UK’s musical history, check it out.
- Transcript projects – The Orion Team and Andromeda Team have been busy producing more and more transcripts. You can now find over 250 finished scripts and also many scripts which are 100% proofread. Go to the transcripts page on my website for more info. I’ll be updating that page soon to make it easier for you to find the transcripts.
So, the holiday.
Where did we go? And why?
We wanted to have kind of a blowout – that’s a fairly big holiday as a celebration because my wife is pregnant. Yes, she’s pregnant, we’re going to have a baby so we wanted to go on another big trip while it’s just the two of us before the baby arrives.
That’s right – my wife is pregnant. We’re going to have a baby in December.
That’s kind of a big deal isn’t it?
If you are now thinking of writing to me by email or in the comment section to send me a message about this, and you’re wondering what to write exactly. Here are some things that would be appropriate.
Very happy for you!
When is it due?
Do you know if it’s a boy or a girl?
Do you have any ideas for names?
Are you ready?
Those are some appropriate things.
Basically, congratulating us and wishing us well.
Needless to say, anything other than that would be inappropriate, right?
No doubt some of you will choose to think about the podcast and how that might be affected by this oncoming change in my life.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to stop doing the podcast because I’m having a baby (correction: my wife is actually the one who is going to have the baby, I’m just going stand there, let her dig her fingernails into the back of my hand and hope for the best.)
It’s true, things are bound to change in my life because of this and certainly at the beginning when the baby is newly born it might be hard to record and upload episodes as regularly as normal, but I definitely plan to carry on the podcast because honestly, this podcast is like my job these days – it is a job because I get income from sponsorship. It is a job I thoroughly enjoy and that I chose for myself.
Confucius: Choose a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.
But it is a job nonetheless.
So there are several reasons why I plan to continue doing it. I’m not about to just abandon it.
So we chose to have a big trip to celebrate our last summer holiday just the two of us.
This would be our last holiday just the two of us! We kept saying, “It’s our last summer together!”
We’ve always gone abroad for our recent holidays – it seems alternating between parts of Asia and North America. Indonesia, California, Thailand, Japan.
But we think that with kids it would be easier and also safer to go on holiday in France or the UK.
So, this year we wanted one more fairly big trip!
2 years ago we had our honeymoon in California – we had an amazing time and had a few mini adventures involving bears outside tents and injuries on hiking trails (I made something like 8 podcast episodes about it! Called California Road Trip)
But there were things we didn’t manage to do or see on that trip and we always said “We’ll come back and do it next time” – at the time it helped deal with the disappointment of knowing were missing something, like for example the Grand Canyon or something else we really wanted to experience. “We’ll get it next time” we would say.
You can’t always see everything you want.
So this time we decided to have what we’re calling a ‘babymoon’ by going back to that part of the world to do the things we missed out on last time, just as a big final holiday just the two of us.
So, we went back to the USA – to Southern California for some days and then quite a lot of time exploring the National Parks and areas within the Navajo Nation territories. Places like Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Monument Valley, Lake Powell and The Grand Canyon. Incredible landscapes, natural scenery and wild beauty – but also the kind of infrastructure that would make it possible for my pregnant wife to see all that stuff without it being too inconvenient or risky.
So this is like the California Road Trip 2 but this time we went to lots of other states too, including Nevada, Arizona and Utah.
Back to the USA and for some reason I feel slightly sheepish about telling you that.
Feeling sheepish = slightly embarrassed, uncomfortable or unsure about something.
Maybe because of the political situation over there which is throwing a weird shadow on everything. It feels like a controversial time to go over there, as if you’re somehow taking part in it, validating it or making a statement about it.
There was nothing political about our trip so that has nothing to do with it.
It was hard to escape the politics there though, but only on the TV, mostly.
In our everyday experience we didn’t see any trouble, unrest, no anti-Trump rallies, no white nationalists marching around. We saw a couple of bumper stickers saying MAGA and also a poster that said “Hillary for Prison 2016” but that was it. A couple of people we met talked about how ashamed they were that Trump was their president and seemed surprised that we still wanted to visit the country.
But generally speaking, everyone we met – including people I imagine had voted for Trump and others who hadn’t – everyone was very polite and nice to us and apparently to each other too.
On the TV though, there were scenes of violence and chaos as fighting broke out between white supremacists and anti-facists in Charlottesville Virginia, on the other side of the country.
On TV it was fighting, chaos, debates, angry tweets, all kinds of drama. I took a look at Twitter a few times and there was a lot of quite angry debate on there with strong opinions on both sides – those who were clearly against the white supremacist groups and those who defended them. It felt at times like the country was in turmoil.
Then we looked out of the window and it was just silence, maybe a car driving by.
It just showed me the sharp contrast between the reality of TV and the internet (because I think the internet is the new mainstream media – despite what all the YouTubers think – it’s fast becoming the mainstream media, especially when they get more views than many TV shows). It showed the contrast between what you get in the media, and what you actually experience, but then again we were just tourists and were probably just scratching the surface.
Reminds me of Bill Hicks https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tGjuPJskNRE
I could go into all the complicated politics of what happened in Charlottesville but I think I won’t, in this episode.
I could describe the reasons why white nationalists were marching through a town in Virginia (on the other side of the country to California), why they were waving confederate flags, why some of them had swastika flags, why they were shouting Trump Trump Trump and MAGA. I could go into how they fought with anti-facist protestors, and how we’re not sure who started the fighting. I could talk about how someone from the white supremacist side drove a car into the anti-facists, killing a woman and injuring 20 others, and I could go into why many people feel so upset and angry with their president for not taking a clear position on these people who some describe as fascists and neo-Nazis, and how lots of people believe Trump is somehow encouraging these people.
I could go into all of that, but this episode is supposed to be about a travelling experience, not about a fight in a town on the other side of the country.
I might come back to it in another episode. I’ll see how I feel.
Paris – Montreal (half a da) – L.A. (a few days) – Vegas (one evening is enough!) – National Parks & Canyons – Vegas (for about 2 hours) – L.A. (a few more days) – Paris – Bed!
Cities and national parks. Urban areas with metropolitan life and amazing geological features in desert canyons.
One afternoon and an evening.
We hung out mainly in the Mont Royal area and the old town.
- Reasons Montreal is an awesome place
People are really friendly and polite.
Everyone’s bilingual, which is amazing. It’s shows that it’s totally possible for a whole city to be bilingual. No need to panic and freak out about several languages being spoken in a city at the same time.
- It’s really diverse and in a good way because everyone’s really chilled out and there seems to be a lot of mixing between ethnic groups and not a lot of tension or anything.
- They have this food called “poutine” which is basically French fries covered in cheese and gravy – not that healthy but it is seriously tasty.
- The city has this nice colonial vibe to it and there’s loads of greenery everywhere. In the streets we walked down there were leafy trees, big bushes outside people’s houses, just plants growing everywhere – some of them planted, some of them weeds, but it felt like there was lots of plant life almost taking over the city, which is great. In Paris, it’s all stone and as a result it can feel a bit brutal. The greenery adds some much-needed calm to the place and also oxygen.
- The buildings are really cool-looking, with really interesting looking staircases outside them and awesome wrought iron balconies and verandas.
- Montreal has access to some amazing wilderness areas like local mountains, lakes and forests so you can get into nature really quickly while also enjoying the benefits of living in a city.
We were walking around going, “oh my word this is the perfect city for us”.
But, the bad side is that in winter it’s totally freezing and everything gets covered in 4 feet of snow, which makes life really inconvenient.
I know some of you listening to this live in similar places. What’s that like? How bad is that really?
Anyway, I loved Montreal and would gladly return there one day.
I like all the space, the convenience, the feeling of being in the ‘new world’, the vast natural landscapes and all that, but it’s Canada so you don’t get the feeling you’re in a completely crazy country where people shoot each other and stuff like that. I’d love to go back to Canada again one day. I did travel there for a month when I was 19 with my cousin Oliver and we had an amazing time then too. We’d very much like to go back there. We were even talking of moving there, but we don’t want to leave our family and friends behind.
Left Montreal and Flew to Los Angeles
Nightmare rental car experience with “Right Cars”.
Arrive and the woman at the info desk doesn’t know the company. Not a good start.
We work out that we need to get a shuttle to a car park a couple of kilometres away from the airport. A car park.
Everyone else is getting out of the shuttle at the proper rental places, getting greeted with smiling service agents from Enterprise and Avis.
We’re the last ones on the bus. Dropped off and told to go around the corner. “Round the corner! Round the corner! Just go on round the corner sir.”
At least they called me sir.
Tried to call them. Call centre hell.
Now I’m on hold in blazing sunshine in a car park, or parking lot.
It’s even called the cell phone lot. There’s no chance of not standing there on your cell phone, that’s the name of the place.
Finally get through to someone. There’s a driver coming.
We’re expecting a shuttle.
Dude turns up in a rental car.
We get in, asking questions. He tells us the shuttles are in the garage. Both of them just broke down this week.
We pick up the car, they add some other charges we didn’t know about like a toll road charge. Never went through a toll road.
And the bill and the receipt didn’t match but we were told it would be sorted out because the guy wasn’t there.
I’d ordered a GPS with it too and he said “Do you still want the GPS?” after we’d already paid.
Nah, that’s fine I took a good look at the city from the plane window, I think I’ve got it all worked out. I’ve played a lot of GTA5 I think I know my way around this city.
I watch a lot of movies, I know LA like the back of my hand, I’ll be fine.
Of course we wanted the GPS. “Do you still want it?”
No it’s ok, I’ve decided to just use the force. Thanks.
What’s it like walking around in LA? (I talked about this a bit in previous episodes)
Like being in a movie
Cool looking little shops and bars.
Hippie stuff everywhere.
Shops selling jewelry and cool clothes.
Constant smell of vaping, but not seeing where it came from.
Vegan coffee shops and stuff.
Amazing sunshine, lazy cars drifting past.
50s style burger joints and dudes on cool bicycles.
Tattoo’d people, bikers.
Stopped at a sports bar.
First hearing of Hotel California (this ubiquitous song that you hear everywhere)
Los Angeles is a big city with millions of people, an urban place where everyone drives, but there is a surprising amount of nature there with lots of wild plants, cactuses, trees, animal life, and hills with tree-filled canyons. You feel like it’s not difficult to get into nature quite easily. It’s not exactly like it is in the movies. In many ways, it’s better.
To be continued in Part 2 with some content about: Modern art, astronomy vs astrology, flat-earth conspiracy theories and more descriptions & stories!
Thanks for listening.